Last November Pius Heinz took the WSOP Main Event title and $8.7 million back to Germany, contributing to what he sees as a potential poker boom in his home country.
For the last five months Heinz has been traveling the world, spreading the good word about the game that made him a millionaire at 22 years of age.
But it was Germany where Heinz focused his energy, and he's hoping it will pay off.
PokerListings.com: The WSOP is almost here so tell us, what’s life been like since you won the Main Event?
Pius Heinz: In my personal life not much has really changed. I think I’ve stayed the same person as I was before.
But as far as my professional life, almost everything has changed. I was a total unknown before I won the Main Event and now everyone in the poker world knows me.
I definitely get around a lot more than I used to, a lot of traveling, a lot of interviews and photo shoots. Basically I’ve just got a whole different perspective on the poker world.
Before I only had the outside perspective of a poker player but now I’ve seen how the media works and how parts of the poker industry work.
Sometimes all the attention and responsibilities are hard to deal with but it’s been an amazing experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
PL: The world champion of poker is always looked at as a sort of “Poker Ambassador”. What have you done since winning the Main Event to be an ambassador?
PH: I’ve definitely been focusing on Germany because I feel like that’s where my responsibility is. Poker isn’t necessarily viewed very positively there so I feel like we have a lot of make-up work to do.
I’ve done a lot of interviews and gone on television shows and just tried my best to show people that poker isn’t a game for criminals or whatever stereotypes these people have about it.
So I’m just trying to spread the word that poker is this great game that’s interesting and has so many different aspects.
PL: Poker seems like a game Germans would love. Do you think there's a boom coming in German poker?
PH: There definitely is a lot of potential for big growth. I’ve done my best and I hope what I’ve done has had a good effect.
I'm really happy with the way my win was treated and written about in Germany.
There wasn’t any jealousy and German people tend to be a bit jealous when someone wins something, especially a 22-year-old kid, and that didn’t happen at all.
But it was a big thing to have someone who’s fairly humble and fairly intelligent talking about poker in the mainstream media in Germany.
I just hope going forward poker’s image will keep getting better in Germany and I hope I managed to represent the poker community well for my country.
PL: What was the biggest thing that happened as a result of winning millions of dollars?
PH: Freedom. That’s definitely the most important thing for me, the freedom and the security that came with it.
With the money I got, if I’m not an idiot with it, I can probably live for the rest of my life in a very comfortable lifestyle. If I don’t blow it that is, and I haven’t so far. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
I don’t think many 22-year-olds have already reached their life savings goal. I’m so thankful for it.
PL: How do you feel about going back to Las Vegas for the WSOP this summer?
PH: Well, if a lot of people know me now in Germany, everyone’s going to know me in Las Vegas so I’m not sure how crazy it will be.
If it takes me like half an hour to get through the halls in the Rio I don’t know if I’ll like it after 30 days.
Vegas is the place where it all happened so I’m definitely looking forward to going back. And I’ve only won one bracelet so there’s definitely room for a couple more.
PL: How much will the experience of playing in front of the cameras and huge crowds help you when you’re playing at the WSOP this year?
PH: That’s definitely something that’s going to come in handy if I’m playing on a TV table this year.
I remember on Day 6 last year it was the first time I had been in front of cameras and the first few hours were definitely weird.
I immediately started losing a lot of chips and I’ve talked to a lot of people who say the same thing, that you start playing badly.
You start thinking about how everyone’s going to see your play and if you mess up a hand you’re going to look stupid on TV, so you definitely worry about that.
It took me like three or four hours to get over that and from there I was just thinking about the hands.
If you could pick someone to win the Main Event this year, as far as having a positive impact on poker, what kind of person would you choose?
PH: I think a woman winning would be amazing. Especially if it’s a good-looking woman.
PL: If you had one tip for someone who had never played at the WSOP Main Event before, what would it be?
PH: Just to enjoy the experience. It’s a long event so don’t spew your chips and have fun.
PL: And what advice would you give the person who wins the Main Event next year?
PH: The exact same thing. Enjoy the experience and have fun.